"Nothing is true but love, nor aught of worth;
Love is the incense which doth sweeten earth."
THERE was a young layman with whom Mother Harriet was brought into communication, who regarded her with a son's grateful affection, and who from time to time sought her advice. The following letters will give some idea of the substance and tone of the advice she would give in such a case:
"House of Mercy, Clewer, Windsor.
"MY DEAR--,I will do the best I can to help you. First, on the very difficult subject of free-will, no doubt there are endless learned books to be read, but I fancy it must still remain a mystery to the intellect, to be accepted as much must be when GOD and man are concerned, which we cannot understand on this side the veil.
"GOD is sovereign, omnipotent, omnicient, omnipresent, GOD is in heaven, in hell, GOD fills all, knows all; and yet it is certain that it has been His sovereign will to create a creature which He wills to transform into Himself, wills should catch the Light, as it were, and reflect His glory with a perfect freedom of will. We choose at every step in life, this path or that path, this person or that; in every moment of our life we are choosing between good and evil,--those who are most recollected, most restrained, are most conscious of this choice; and then, when we come to the higher phases of spiritual life,'--to what are called the counsels of perfection,--then I feel convinced that GOD in some way, or at some time, asks the soul, 'Can ye drink of the cup?' &c., and each has, and does say for himself, 'We are able.' So you see all through the chain of our life runs the free-will. The mystery of mysteries, and yet the keynote of all, is the Incarnation,--that GOD should have taken our nature into Himself, and so made us partakers of the Divine Life. Angels are pure beings, created of GOD, but not united to GOD, as man is, and these angels who watch round us and accompany our steps, cannot move our will, though no doubt in a thousand ways they uphold, and strengthen, and minister to us.
"Now about sin. Surely the remedy GOD has appointed in His Church lies in confession and absolution. People who have never used the ordinance may speculate as they like about it, but the blessing after true contrition and true confession, of hearing, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee, go in peace,' is intense. We forestall the particular judgment of the soul by bringing our souls and our lives to the judgment of GOD here, and when we sin again and again,--not I mean wilful sin, for we must not, and cannot do that when there is true contrition,--but from the evil tendencies of our nature, from the weakness of our will, from the infirmities of our being,--we must apply the remedy over and over again. We have not merely to put away sin, but we have to grow in holiness, and holiness is the unfolding of the Divine life in us, and it is unfolded by penitence, that is, contrition,--by knowledge, for when we seek to draw nearer to GOD how much we want to know,--and by union, which is GOD Himself uniting us to, and transforming us into, Himself.
"Dear------, it is a great joy to me to see you as earnest about your soul as a layman, as if you had taken Orders; and now that your path in life seems freed, and will only be an opening out of more power, more influence, it is a great point that you should be one of those laymen whom GOD raises up to stand as pillars in the Church, and in the coming struggle who can say which will have most to sustain the Church's life, the clergy or the laity?
"May GOD bless and guide you. You know well, from having thought it out, that a life of sacrifice must be a whole burnt offering. GOD be with you and bless you.
"Ever your very affectionate friend,
To the same:
"MY DEAR------. I am very grateful for the Easter offering to the hospital, it will entitle you to some admissions. Sister------will write about this.
"Do not be over-anxious about your Communions, say constantly, 'LORD, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief,' and light will come. You will find some nice chapters about it at the end of Thomas a Kempis. The great thing is to get one's intellect as enlightened as possible without bringing reason to be the umpire, and then pray; and faith and spiritual illumination will come in GOD'S time, and when it does really come, you will have found a pearl of great price.
"Sin is sin, and the distinction of mortal sin, which the conscience tells one is sin, and sins of infirmity which one struggles against, but which, with all one's struggling, take time to overcome, is another thing. The one is a grave that one knows one must get out of or it is certain death, the other, one is always struggling to be free from, yet always travelling onwards,--struggling on. ...
"Ever yours, very affectionately,
"MY DEAR---, I am so glad you wrote to me, specially now before Easter, if I can help you to make your Easter Communion with a more living sense of our LORD'S Presence in It, I shall be most thankful. A book that would help you is, 'The Sacraments and Sacramental Ordinances,' by John Henry Blunt. (Rivingtons.)
"If we can once get to accept the Mystery which we can never fathom, and believe in the Gift which we cannot understand, we gain a new Life in the union with JESUS Who is our Life, through the partaking of His Body and Blood. This was the mode which His wisdom took to communicate to us this precious Gift, just as the Crucifixion was the suffering He took wherewith to redeem mankind. It was all in the sovereign will of GOD,--reason cannot fathom it. The Catechism says, 'The Body and Blood of CHRIST, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the LORD'S Supper.' The benefits of the Sacrament so received are 'the strengthening and refreshing.'
"I think, if you will get Blunt's book, you will find the whole doctrine of the Sacrifice most clearly stated, and it is worth your while to get clear and distinct knowledge on this subject, because illumination of the mind is an aid to faith.
"You do quite right in saying Holy Communion would be quite a different source of joy to you, if you believed in the Real Presence.
"As regards the two lives. I do not think you would be the better for withdrawing from all society; another set of temptations would arise, and perhaps what are quite as dangerous though more subtle, but what we all have to do in our vocation, whatever it is, is to be quite sure we stand on GOD'S side,--and doing this will always cause us to use GOD'S gifts without abusing them, and as for His glory. How rightly to mix in the world's life, even in a moderate degree, needs much inward self-discipline and self-restraint, much watchfulness to be true to GOD, and a fixed rule as to what one will and will not do. All this needs a very true conscientious dealing with oneself.
"As regards fasting, I am quite sure, for you, your rule will do. You could not do more, it would unfit you not only for work, but for the struggle with yourself. But a strong man, full of a strong nature and great vitality, would need to abstain more to bring the body into subjection.
"A very jealous guard against little or great self-indulgence would, in your case, be the true point of attack. May GOD give you much grace to finish up this Lent with a firm resolve to stand boldly on GOD'S side in life, and with some few, very few, but very telling resolves which you will persevere in.
"Write to me at any time if I can help you. I am so glad you have got------church to go to,--it will be a great help to you. Write to me again when the light conies.
"Ever yours very affectionately,
A yet closer and more frequent intercourse was for several years kept up with one whose life was passed in home duties, and whom Mother Harriet first knew as devotedly employed in nursing an invalid mother. The first letter alludes to her chief and most anxious charge.
"MY DEAR----, I was very sorry to hear of your great anxiety about your mother. I trust your account may be considered favourable, and shall be very glad to hear again from you after awhile. How an illness like this, touching one so closely, making one feel one's entire dependence on GOD, and shaking, as it were, the roots of one's life, makes one feel the littleness of many things we have often thought were of immense importance, and that which is of real value shines out with true light. It is a great blessing to be taught this, even through suffering, and a shadow like this passing over one's happy home, makes one hold one's blessings with a more trembling and yet a more thankful, loving hold. GOD bless and be with you all. Remember me very affectionately to------.
"Ever yours affectionately,
The following letter to the same refers to a sick sister under her care:
"MY DEAREST------, So thankful to hear the better account of dear------. Give her my love and blessing. It is not easy to bear pain well, so she must just do the next best thing, bear it as well as she can. Pain is in itself a sharp discipline, and hard to bear. I sometimes think we want to make too light of things. Pain is pain; sorrow is sorrow, and GOD alone Who sends it knows how real our efforts may be to bear that which He means us to feel very keenly."
Sympathy with the anxieties which the friend addressed in these letters had to bear, led on to the deeper work of helping her in the care of her soul, and the overcoming her faults.
The following letter is the first of a series, and was written in response to a request for help in her spiritual life.
"MY DEAR------, I am glad you have written, and hope to be able to help you as GOD permits. The temper must be got under. Of this there can be no doubt; but it will cost you a great deal, and can only be done little by little. Try and find out how often you fail through pride, or independence of spirit, or self-love in some form, and then try and gain the contrary virtue. Practise yourself in little acts of humility and self-restraint. Never be ashamed to say openly, I have been wrong. A little very earnest effort will no doubt greatly help. Try and make your meditation fall in with the effort by taking specially our LORD'S humility to dwell on. Consider the Goo-Man in the helplessness of infancy; the obedience of childhood; the gentleness of manhood; the patient meekness in suffering. See how He took the humiliations of the Passion and the Cross. Dwell on it in detail, considering one point after another, a little at a time. Try to be very true to the time you give to meditation,--if five minutes, be sure you keep quite to the time; then give ten minutes; then fifteen. This would be enough for you, only keep still in the attitude of prayer, or adoration, or humiliation. You need not always kneel through your meditation, though it is better to do so, but if uneasy, seat yourself on the floor, only try to keep still with your point of meditation before you. The power will grow, and you will begin to take delight in it. GOD bless you. Give my love to------.
"Ever your affectionate
This was followed by the next letter, after an interval of about two months.
"MY DEAR------, I have not been able to write sooner, because I have been very busy and very tired. I cannot let you be in the least discouraged because you find difficulties in your path. Who ever set out on the journey of self-conquest, and found it easy? Your consciousness of the difficulties is the best proof you can have of real earnestness. While gliding down with the stream the bark goes easily, but when we come to pull up against it, it is a different story. So do not be discouraged, but you must be brave, and you must do penance for faults. The penance is the acknowledgment that you have been wrong. We Church of England people ask for a right, true, downright penance when we ask for one at all. A few such acknowledgments will make you more watchful; besides, they will help to break the stubborn neck of self. Self has a thousand, yes, ten thousand heads, and the neck of each must be broken ere self is so dead in us, that we can really say, 'I live, yet not I, but CHRIST liveth in me.' So, dear, you see we must be up and in earnest; GOD bless and strengthen you in the effort. Be very faithful, and you will be sure to conquer. I have just seized a little moment before Church time. How is------? give her my love, and to------too.
"Ever yours very affectionately,
"Sr. HARRIET, Supr.
After another interval of about two months she writes again, giving further advice:
"MY DEAR------, I send some meditations, will you copy and return them? As regards fasting, do what you can in simple ways. Fix on three definite acts of self-denial,--one as regards food, one as regards words, one as regards habits of self-indulgence; and watch carefully about these points, being very faithful to your resolve. Try little things, not great things. Little things very faithfully done, will advance you on your way more than great efforts in which you would break down. I write in the midst of many interruptions, and yet do not like to delay longer.
"Ever yours affectionately,
These letters are a sample of a more than twenty years' correspondence. There are two or three more that seem important to select in addition to those already given, as bearing on the same subject of self-conquest.
"MY DEAR------, You must not be discouraged; yours is not an enemy easily overcome. I think you would do better if you did not let discouragement come over you when you first fail in temper. But you are given to feel it is no good, and so in the moment of temptation do not bring the needful pressure to bear. Silence is a great help, and though at first silence may seem moodiness, yet that will pass, if you only try to keep with GOD in the silence. ..."
About a year later, other advice seemed to be needful,--encouragement to persevere after a period of depression.
"MY DEAR------, Day after day I have been going to write to you, but I knew you wanted more than a mere loving scrap, and I had not the quiet. Life looks a wee bit dreary to you just now, and there is a time perhaps in every one's life when it looks dreary. One has to pass out of the stage of hope and expectations, which for a long time in life carries one on, to look at it in its quiet realities of dulness and common-place duties and monotonous routine. And yet here we have to glorify GOD. We were created for GOD'S glory, and life is the stage in which we can glorify Him. It is in well facing this fact that you will find your rest. The thought of Madame de Chantal, whose life you read, will help> you. There is no escaping this training by which the soul is to be transformed, changed as it may be from one thing into another; from the natural into the supernatural. Realise that this is the great work of your life, the end of your being. The pathway may be strewn with flowers or with crosses. It must be pretty much alike to us which,--if the crosses are more apparent, the flowers are sure to be hidden among them; if the flowers shine out and attract the eye, the crosses are sure to be hidden among them.
"There is a vocation for you in this sorrow,--what it is, or has called you to, neither you nor I can tell. It has not had any outward end, and yet there is no doubt a call. Self-sacrifice is written upon it,--doing the daily duties of life cheerfully when they look very dull, because love is written upon it, clothing all one's words and movements with love, when nature feels cold and dull and unloving; hope is written upon it, when there does not seem even a blade of grass for hope to feed on on earth, and so hope has to look upwards to find a resting-place for its tiny feet.
"Formerly, dear, the struggle was to overcome temper; now, the struggle is to overcome a worse enemy, dreariness. And I believe that a quiet, aimless life lived in the sunshine of GOD'S will can be bathed in light, and be a gladness, and a warmth, and cheer to others, simply because we have become so dead to ourselves and our own will. We live but to reflect His light and give this warmth to others. Now I must say good night.
"Ever your loving friend,
About a year later, she was led to write again on hearing from this friend, of her experience of further trial.
"MY DEAREST------, I am so glad you have provoked a letter from me. No doubt humility is the point we all need, I mean specially need, as we strive to grow into, and be partakers of the Divine Life, because it is that which likens us to our LORD. 'Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.' There is the dying down of self, and the livingness of the Life of GOD in us. It is not humble acts, or restrained looks and words, though they must exist and be the expression of the life within, but it is, as a writer says, that 'the soul makes lowliness its aim, it touches the very substance of our being.' Practically speaking, I think the best way to help oneself to see how to attain it, is to draw two pictures of oneself. One, what one would be if lowliness were the whole aim of one's life. Picture in writing one's own practical daily life steeped in lowliness after the pattern of our Blessed LORD, and then draw out with the same exactness of detail the hindrances one sees in oneself to this lowliness. Then you get a true ground for self-restraint, self-annihilation in details, and a true model on which to form one's own life. By faithfully keeping this before one year after year, one may hope a little to reach after, and be transformed into, the Divine image.
"This is not the mere being good, it is the definite surrender of oneself and one's life at any cost. Dearest ------, I feel GOD has been calling you to the highest point of union with His Divine Life, and you must aim to be very true in following. And that following is not in the outer actions of your life, though they are the bulwarks and stays of it; but it is in the inner surrender of the soul, the willingness that self should suffer, be buffeted, cut down, cease to exist,--no longer, 'I like,' but that GOD wills it; that life that has no will but to respond unhesitatingly to the Divine Will. One by one everything must be offered to GOD. The dead self has given up all to GOD. The dying self offers it to GOD a thousand times, and then shrinks back, and takes to itself that which it has offered. But GOD loves us too well, and is too true with us not to oblige us to be true with Him.
"GOD bless you, dear, and strengthen you to yield a glad obedience to so glorious a call. It is an exceeding weight of glory to feel on us the touch of His Divine Hand; the being called by name. *We surrender our own individuality, because GOD in His love has individualised us, and called us with a special call. GOD bless you, dear, more and more.
"Ever your loving friend,
This series of letters may be closed with one written to convey Christmas greetings two years after the last, to another member of the same family.
"MY DEAR CHILD,--I must send you a little line of love this Christmas Eve, because I hope and pray that you may hear the angels around you singing a very sweet song of peace, and telling you to draw near to the Prince of Peace in the manger, that you may with your whole soul be able to draw nearer to the Prince of Peace in His glory, Who is day by day drawing you nearer to Himself. Christmas follows Christmas till we return to the Child-life again, of feebleness and dependence and need of care, that warns us of our coming nearer to our FATHER'S Home through Him Who made Himself a child for us. No doubt many things, and many loves bind us to earth, but there are inward attractions and secret longings for the vision of GOD that unbind these ties, and make us welcome the signals that the land of rest is not very far off. May you be able to look into it this Christmas with a sweet sense of peace. Gather up your whole life before GOD with all that it shows you of sin or carelessness, or unfulfilled response to Divine grace. Sorrow over it as you will, but let your sorrow be turned into joy, as you welcome your SAVIOUR, and cast yourself in loving trust and confidence into the arms of His love. GOD bless you with the rich blessing of His everlasting peace.
"Ever your loving friend,
"&c., &c. "Christmas Eve."
These letters are but parts of a correspondence which was continued until her resignation, and then, having been suspended for a time, was afterwards resumed during the last years of her growing infirmity.
The following letter is in some respects of an unique character: it was written to a near relation of one of the Sisters, with whom Mother Harriet had had a few passing conversations, during which he had been greatly struck with her "large-heartedness, and especially her cordial respect for every expression of a thought and desire for GOD'S glory, though very far from harmonising with her own school of thought." The letter was written when she had heard that Sir James Paget had decided, that this gentleman had "a serious disease which must take its course."
"House of Mercy, Clewer.
"MY DEAR MR.------, Sister------has told me how consciously you were passing under GOD'S Hand, and life is assuming for you a different aspect, and new feelings of responsibility rise up before you. It is no longer now how best to do the day's work, but how best to live the day's life, with all its burden of suffering and weakness, to GOD'S glory.
"This is a question which in one form or other of suffering GOD brings face to face with some souls. Earth's life, as it has been, in one moment drops from us, and we stand before GOD with one absorbing thought, How best to live for GOD?
"I think the answer is, to live in GOD as much as we can, to enter into the deep solitude and silence and stillness of a life in GOD. In Him alone we feel we have strength to go through what He calls us to bear,--and we must open up our being to enter in faith into His life, and let Him reveal His life in us.
"Our great work when His call comes, is to have faith to open the door of our being and let GOD in, GOD in the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity--the indwelling of the HOLY GHOST forming the CHRIST-life in us, and the FATHER coming to make His abode. This Life is fed in us by Sacraments, by communing with GOD in the wilderness, by lights coming direct from GOD or through His word.
"It is often too much for us in the wear and tear of daily life to rise up to the contemplation of our real greatness in GOD, but I feel sure now the more you muse on it, and ponder and pray, you will feel this, and that not any special acts of your own, are the true way to accomplish your desire to live for GOD.
"You will have much to test you, much to purge out the old leaven of our nature, that the CHRIST-life may be made manifest in you. And I read now in all the drawings of GOD leading you to draw others to dedicate their lives to Him, how He has been secretly drawing you on to lead you to the consecration of yourself in the higher life of union,--union with the sufferings of JESUS, with His loneliness, with His solitude with GOD, His Patience, His Love.
"I have dwelt on solitude, because I think this is one special form in which your illness will test you,--there are deep solitudes in our being into which no one can enter, into which we care not for any to enter. In a busy working Community life of duty we know nothing of these solitudes, or if we catch a glimpse of them we soon fill them up with work or distractions. But now each week will withdraw you more from the outer.
"You know how keenly------ feels for and with you, by the strength of the love that has bound your strong natures to each other. She will go to see you from time to time. But nothing any one can do can fill the solitude of your being, but GOD. Therefore I try to give you courage to strive to gain the childlike simplicity of a little child, that as a child you may hide yourself in GOD. I write from the depths of experience of a soul who has long passed under GOD'S Hand, and who can tell the never-failing love there is in the touch of that Hand.
"Yours very sincerely,
"And with truest sympathy,
"Oct. 24, 1874."
These words were not written in vain. Her correspondent, inclosing this letter to the author, says: "The thought of no longer how best to do the day's work, but how best to live the day's life, has been very often in my mind, and I trust it may also be of value to others."
Very much of Mother Harriet's correspondence in the earlier period of her life at Clewer, was necessarily taken up with procuring help for the work. Afterwards as Sisters were drawn to offer themselves, there was the necessity of considering the several cases, and to enter into the difficulties which might stand in the way of their coming.
The spirit in which Mother Harriet dealt with such cases requires to be noted. The two following letters are to a friend whom she had asked to come, but who was hindered, the first of the two in the early days of the House of Mercy work, when the need of help was greatest.
"MY DEAR------, After you left me yesterday I began to fear, lest in my desire to have your assistance at any time you could give it, I had not been sufficiently considerate of your home claims, and I thought how unreasonable your sister would consider my taking you away from her. So I must write to explain that I do not mean to be selfish. I shall indeed be most thankful for any assistance you can give me, and I should much like you to be with us for a time, that we may have your more entire sympathy in our work, and that you may more fully enter into what it is. But at the same time I know the home ties and home duties stand far beyond all others, and it is only when GOD seems to make one's way plain, and place one in a work of the kind, that one can feel entire confidence that one is in the right path. If you come to us at this time I shall feel you are a messenger sent from Him, having prayed for help, and feeling full assurance that He would put it into the heart of some one of His servants to come and help just now when we want help."
This second letter was written somewhat later:
"My DEAR------, I am very sorry you cannot come to us, I should have liked to have you so much, and I know these little visits from time to time are a pleasure to yourself,--but just so far as you feel them a help and blessing to yourself, so you may be assured that when you resign them to the will of others, or because GOD shows you the path of duty lies elsewhere, so will He be with you teaching you and drawing you nearer and nearer to Himself, though you may not be able to enjoy such sensible communion with Him, which He seems so graciously to give here for one's support and comfort in this work, and you have always a share in our prayers."
The extracts which follow are from letters written to one who had greatly desired to become a Sister, but was hindered from ever accomplishing the desire in consequence of ill health.
The circumstances which led Mother Harriet to write with the view of comforting her in her disappointment, and helping her in the discharge of the duties open to her in the world, are best given in her correspondent's own words, which were addressed to the author:
"My real intimate friendship with dear Mother Harriet only began when------, who had been my most kind friend, died, though I had known of her all my life, as she was an old friend of my mother's. What her help and influence have been in my life no one fully knows but GOD; and to Him I constantly offer up my thanks for what I feel is one of the greatest blessings I ever had. To explain fully what some things in her letters to me mean, I should tell you that for the last twenty years, that is since I was quite a little child, the one aim and hope of my life has been that I might offer myself wholly to GOD in the Religious Life, in these many years there have been many difficulties and doubts to obscure this aim; and nothing has so helped me to keep true to it as Mother Harriet's help and sympathy. It has not pleased GOD as yet to allow the accomplishment of this desire. Some years ago I had a long illness, and I have never been really well or strong since. In the heart-sickness that often comes over me at the seemingly hopeless deferment of my heart's desire, it is one of my greatest comforts to hope that I am learning the lesson of perfect self-surrender to GOD'S will, which Mother Harriet helped me so much to long and strive for. If any of her written words to me might help others in like difficulties I shall be so very glad."
The following are the letters referred to:
"MY DEAR------, I am very glad that you should write to me. I feel you a sacred trust left to me by------. He was very anxious about your young life, and knew that it must pass through sundry chastenings and trials ere it could be really braced up to the height of your desire and aims; for it is one thing for the soul to grasp at a vision of what GOD would draw it on to, another to attain to that which the soul has grasped; and the long, weary, plodding steps day by day, and the frequent conquests of self, are very difficult, and the path cannot well be trod alone, because it is one of difficulty and loneliness.
"So, as for the time being GOD seems to trust you to my guiding, do not fear to lean as you will. . . . [here follows advice as to parish work.] All this, dear child, will help to test the reality of what you would give to GOD. It is one thing to work for one's own pleasure, and the reward it brings; more, to walk along the clear path of duty and for GOD alone. Thank Him that He sends the testing in your young days. He is just saying to you, 'Can you?' but when we say, 'we are able,' He takes us at our word, and our whole future life is a being upheld by His love along the path we have chosen. But remember it is along the way of the Cross, for that was the cup He drank of. There is nothing like really counting the cost before one begins to build one's tower, then afterwards, though one knows it is difficult to build it from various causes, there is no misgiving.
"Now, you know------ wished you to take a time before you came in your own mind to any final decision about your life. I advise it too. Take the time he fixed for you, if he did fix any: if not, take till S. Andrew's Day, 18--, and let all you pass through in this year be a steady testing of the truth of the way in which you can work for GOD alone.....
"Remember, GOD always works very slowly and very surely; the bud is formed slowly; opens slowly. We must work as GOD works, not with the great strides self-love would like to work with."
The following was in answer to a letter telling Mother Harriet that she had made her first confession.
"MY DEAR------, Your letter gave me great pleasure. I was so glad you should get the help at the time you felt the pressing need. GOD so truly supplies all our needs, and He will make your way plain in the future. I do hope you will be very careful of your health, and I think probably, as your inward life gets more restful, you will find that restrained work is more valuable, and accomplishes more than when we let the energies of self outrun our powers. GOD bless you.
"Ever yours very affectionately, "&c., &c."
Then followed another letter when she heard of the growing weakness which hindered any active service:
"MY DEAR ------, I was very glad to get your letter. I always feel as if you were a child commended to me by ------, and I can fully enter into your trial in feeling the energies of work falling from you. It so happens that I have just this day seen a book that I think will help you to understand GOD'S way of working with us, and how His purposes are being carried out in ways that seem to us as failure. It is called, 'On the HOLY SPIRIT,' by Bishop Webb. I think if you get this book, which is not expensive, and read it carefully, it will answer a good deal that is stirring in your own heart."
Nothing could exceed the tenderness of sympathy that would be elicited from Mother Harriet by any real sorrow. The following short notes were addressed to a relation in an advanced state of serious illness. They were written in her own latter days of extreme weakness:
"MY VERY DEAR ONE,------ tells me that she has seen you, and that you are very weak, but that you love my little notes, so I must send you a bright little line to-day. I love to think of you standing on the threshold of the land of rest; the Home we love and long for. When you get there, if you meet my loved one, you will know what to tell him of me. For twenty years that we have stood, one on this side and one on that side of the veil, we have never been parted; and now the meeting time must be getting near, though I know that he loves that I should stay here GOD'S time to do His work.
"GOD bless you, dear. Keep your faith very steadfast, and your hope very bright, and your love ever resting on Him Who is Love; then you need not fear to pass through the dark valley alone with your GOD.
"Ever your loving friend,
Again to the same:
"MY DEAR, DEAR ------, So glad that I saw you, and that you had that good sleep after. I do trust I may some day, after the wedding, see you again. Keep very still and calm in GOD, trusting with your whole heart in His love, and He will receive His child in His own good time, all washed and made holy in the Blood of JESUS; but we must trust His love, and as we trust, we are sure to advance in holiness. We bring our daily life into the Presence of GOD, and though it shows us all its defects, it also brings healing to them, and clothes us with humility, as a garment of holiness.
"Thanks, dear, for the cheque. It will help us on our way. I hope to send back------, none the worse for being here. GOD bless you all, and make this marriage a source of great blessing to all.
"Ever your loving friend,
Once more to the same:
"I am so glad to hear that you have had a visit from ------. It is just what would help and comfort you; some one you could speak to, and no doubt he has helped you on your way upwards. I hope you begin to love the land beyond very much. I know there is the dark river and the separation from earth's loved ones, but there is the beautiful land beyond, and the fulness of the love of JESUS, and the vision of GOD; and the old self all left behind, and the new self that has put on CHRIST. GOD bless you, dear. I am so glad you keep out of the cold, and make less bodily exertion. It does not make you feel your strength so dragged as when you are making efforts.
"Ever your loving friend,
We may see the depths out of which Mother Harriet's loving tenderness welled forth so readily, in the following words addressed to a friend who had been disappointed by experiencing coldness when she had looked for sympathy.
"I must send you a true bit of sympathy on the coldness you speak of,--but I am sure all this comes from GOD, Who will purify the offering till it is emptied of all human satisfaction. Our LORD with His human tenderness enters into all the little shades of suffering, and it is because good people do not enter into the deep, tender beauty of our LORD'S life, they fail to reproduce it when they come into contact with others."
The friend to whom these words were written, and who knew the writer well, thus describes her own impression as to the influence exercised upon herself by her intercourse with Mother Harriet.
"She was not content with broken virtues, she went straight to the great Source and imbibed the Water of Life freely; and so, no matter where she touched humanity, a ray of perfect sympathy shone from Him through her; and so, as it always seemed to me, she attracted souls to GOD rather than to herself.
"One of her little rules for me was 'Try to do little things for GOD'S glory without letting any one know.'
"I have read of some one, who, when she went to the Altar to pray, prayed aloud; some one else followed and wrote down her prayers. When Mother went she rose in the deep stillness of the night, and crept alone to the Altar, and remaining there poured out her tried soul to GOD. One day when she was trying to help me I gained this knowledge. One could almost say of her, not only 'looking unto JESUS,' but 'looking from JESUS.' She saw all life from such a grand standpoint. Obstacles (so called) she did not see. 'Don't look aside,' she used to say, 'look upwards, and in His light you will see light.'"
The same friend was greatly struck by the sympathy expressed by Mother Harriet towards members of another Community.
"One great feature in Mother Harriet's life was her deep sympathy with any work for GOD irrespective of its being carried out according to her own views, and she showed this in no way more beautifully than in her constant love and desire to help other Communities. Writing to the foundress of another Community, she says:
"I am always thankful if we can by any means draw closer the links of unity. Strange that our variations of thought should ever cause difficulties to those who love JESUS and work for Him. If we each could chase the self out of us, we soon should find the points of harmony, not of discord; our fingers would touch them invisibly.' "
This friend continues:
"Often have I seen the Mother attracting to her side some Sister of a younger Community than her own, who listened to her loving counsels; her clear-sightedness into character enabling her to discover at once just what counsel was needed, and her full heart of love making it not only acceptable but very sweet."
It is not of course easy to convey an idea of personal intercourse, but one instance may be given of the kind of power wont to be felt by visitors drawn to the House of Mercy by the desire of obtaining Mother Harriet's help. The following account is given in the words of a friend of the person referred to.
"One great secret of her marvellous power of helping others, lay in her willingness to share her own life and experience with them, thus placing herself en rapport with them, and enabling them to feel that she too had known something of what they were going through.
"'We must speak of ourselves, if we want to help others,' she once said; 'people shrink from doing this, but they should not do so too much. Our experience has been given us for others, not for ourselves alone.'
"Some years ago one who was of a proud reserved nature, and who was becoming hardened under a great sorrow, was induced to go to Mrs. Monsell by a friend, who hoped that her words might bring peace and comfort to a sorrowful heart.
"'My poor child,' said the Mother as soon as they were alone, 'you are in great trouble,--I know just what you are feeling, and I know well what it was to feel hard and rebellious when my husband was taken from me. Sit down, and I will tell you all about it.'
"' I could not have spoken of my grief,' said the visitor afterwards, 'only she told me all about herself and her own sorrow, and then I felt she understood, and so I told her all, and she comforted me as no one else has ever done.'
"Sister Dora once said, that when we wished to help others, we must be signposts, pointing the way to GOD, and not standing in the way ourselves. This was Mrs. Monsell's great aim, not to attach her friends to herself only in the strong ties of personal love, but to lead them on to rest in the love of the Highest. 'GOD must be all in all,' she would say, 'let nothing short of that satisfy you.' "
The following extracts from letters to an intimate friend, which, while answering her questions, express her own opinions on some important practical questions, seem suitable to form the close of this chapter.
The first touches on the question of spiritual direction; the second is a reply to an inquiry as to the use of certain books that had been recommended; the third is on Spiritual Communion; and the fourth on quietness amidst divisions of opinion.
"In these days when we have such varied shades of teaching, I think we are peculiarly called to act up to the light of our own conscience, and not beyond it.....As to any amount of rule or guidance, making us not feel life to be a struggle, and at times a very severe one, I do not believe it will, and I think the true rest will be found in looking out of ourselves, and within only so much as leads us to a real, earnest watchfulness against sin. You know, dear, how strongly I feel individual responsibility. After all we live alone the life hid with CHRIST in GOD; we die alone; and we answer at the judgment-seat of CHRIST alone; and we are as much the objects of CHRIST'S tender love, as if we alone were the objects of His care. And all by the way, be it Sacraments, or earthly guides, or Holy Scripture, or the Church, are but helps through which and by which we reach CHRIST, 'our Way, our Truth, our Life.'"
"I cannot think it desirable to try to like what does not approve itself to one's own mind. GOD will lead us into the knowledge of all truth in the doing of His will, and I should fear to force one's mind. Individual responsibility, and the teaching that GOD'S HOLY SPIRIT vouchsafes to each soul, seem to me such blessed truths, so full of support and comfort, that I would be still and wait,"and not think, because others like certain food, it must be good for oneself."
"About Spiritual Communion I have I am sure the same difficulties you have, that is to say, I fancy some people mean much more by it than I can understand. To me it is an act of union with our Blessed LORD, a seeking to be fed with His precious Body and Blood, to be made one with Him, and through Him with all the blessed Saints departed, that thereby one may grow more and more into the Body of CHRIST. I do not know that I could feel this union increased by thinking that at that moment the Holy Communion was being celebrated at a distance.
"That the Church in this country has been stunted and starved in its growth from the want of that precious Food which our LORD vouchsafed to give us for its support, I suppose we all feel; and the longings for increased life by the partaking of this precious Food, and definite acts expressive of this longing as the nourishment of our souls, will bring to us, we may humbly trust, the blessings of which we should be partakers, if we might more frequently feed on that precious Food in actual Communion."
"I doubt not, dear friend, as time passes on, and if I had to listen to the voice of the world, I should feel as deeply tired as you do with all the controversies that beset us. But GOD having sent me other sorrow, and called me apart to minister to the sorrows of others, has rather enabled me to rejoice in all the rest and blessedness that can be found in our Church, than to be troubled with its divisions."